My First Miscarriage

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My husband and I arrived at our first 8-week appointment a little frazzled, a lot anxious, and very late; but our doctor was lovely about it.  We gave him our history and talked to him about my symptoms (they were few, thankfully).  And after a bit of small talk, he said “alright, let’s see how things look.” 

He didn’t say anything for a long time after starting the ultrasound, then he asked if we were sure about our dates.  “The pregnancy,” he said, “does not look as expected for someone 8-weeks along.” He explained it was possible that our dating was wrong and that we were earlier in the pregnancy than we thought, or it was possible that this was something called a “blighted ovum” which meant that while the gestational sac had developed, the embryo never started growing.  He sent us home and told us to come back in two weeks. 

Back in our apartment, I remember sitting on the couch with my husband in silent tears.  We were in complete shock.  I had known “miscarriage” was a possibility, maybe I’d even known it was common, but I’d only ever thought about it in abstract terms, never really expecting it to happen to me.  I can’t find a good analogy.  All I can say is that I had truly believed miscarriage was something that happened to “other people,” unlucky people, older people, unhealthy people, you name it.  But. Not. Me.

It became immediately apparent to me why women don’t share the news of their pregnancy until after the first trimester.  Having to text my family and friends with whom I’d shared the news was devastating. I felt like I’d disappointed them.  Answering their questions was impossible given that I didn’t fully comprehend what was happening.  And holding their feelings was excruciating because I could barely hold my own. 

In my head I knew our dating was correct.  In my head I knew my lack of morning sickness was not a good sign.  In my head I knew this was a loss…  But my heart, oh my heart was a tricky devil.  Her denial was a powerful drug.  With her I scoured the internet to find multiple accounts of people in my situation for whom everything worked out.  With her I prayed to God and painted a beautifully hopeful picture of everything turning around.  Her strong fingers clung to those two weeks like a lifeline.  

The second ultrasound took place in the obstetrics unit of the hospital.  My husband came with me, but honestly, I have very little memory of him being there that day.  I do remember the ultrasound tech leaving the room to get her supervisor – a kind, young, male doctor, who explained as politely as he could that it was indeed a miscarriage.  I do remember sitting on the procedure table, in a dark room, naked from the waist down, and sobbing.  I do remember walking out past all the happy and rotund women in the waiting room with tear streaked cheeks feeling like a wraith. 

I didn’t want to do anything about it.  I believed that eventually my body would “do the right thing” and pass everything naturally (and maybe I even hoped that my lack of bleeding meant some medical miracle was occurring, and things would still work out just fine).  I was wrong on both counts.  At 12 weeks – 7 weeks after the pregnancy had stopped progressing – my body still thought I was pregnant.  This is called a “missed miscarriage.”

I became irrationally angry at the body I had previously trusted.  I felt like my own uterus had betrayed me.  She was so completely delusional, so wrapped up in the experience of being pregnant that she had failed to recognize the non-viable fetus.  I was disgusted with her and finally opted for a D&C. 

My husband had a conflict the day of the procedure, so my mom came with me instead.  She told me I’d be back in that hospital again someday under better circumstances, and I think I believed her.  The nurse asked me if I wanted information about support groups, and I declined.  Nearly a month had passed between my first appointment and the day of the D&C, and by that time a support group felt like too little too late.  I didn’t want to talk about it.  I was anxious to hurry up and move on.  I wanted to try again. 

The nurse also asked me if I wanted to do anything with the tissue, like have it tested or interred. Again, I declined.  I wanted nothing to do with those traitorous cells.  I just wanted them out of my body.    In retrospect, I wish I’d been in mental place to ask for testing.  My doctors and nurses were surprisingly dismissive about the loss.  It was early.  Loss was common.  Testing would most likely show that there was something wrong with the fetus, but there was no reason to believe it would happen again.  My best course of action was to keep trying.     

What I know how is that while it is true that most miscarriages are a result of chromosomal abnormalities, there are other causes.  Testing the pregnancy tissue can help with diagnosis. One study I read concluded that when testing is combined with the standard workup for repeat miscarriage, a definite or probable cause can be found for 95% of losses.  Knowing the exact cause of my losses may not have made me feel better, but it may have influenced the decisions I made about treatment options. I may not have tried some of the experimental treatments; or I may have pursued them more aggressively.  I can’t be sure.  But I’ll never know, because I didn’t ask.

Through this process I have learned to be a better advocate for myself.  I bring a family member with me to appointments because sometimes my emotions cloud my ability to listen, and I want someone there to ask questions.  I do my own research online following appointments.  I ask for referrals and read reviews of hospitals and clinics.  I don’t do this because I mistrust my doctors; I have an immense amount of respect for doctors.  But my doctors will never care as much about my health and well being as I do.  They will never know my medical history without looking at my charts.  They may be kind, and compassionate, and smart, and excellent, but they are human, and they are fallible.  I think we have a personal obligation to ask questions, seek second opinions and conduct our own research, because nobody else will do this for us.  Anyway, this is just one girl’s opinion.  Take it or leave it. 

On Letting Go of Control

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Several years ago my mom’s friend recommended I read “The Untethered Soul: A Journey Beyond Yourself.”  It’s a beautiful book about the relationship between your thoughts and emotions and your true self.  I read it after each of my last three losses, and it helped me experience my grief without being consumed by it.  I pulled it out again this week, because the Covid-19 crisis has challenged my sense my control and triggered old anxieties.  One of my first notations in the book was this line: In the name of attempting to hold the world together, you’re really just trying to hold yourself together.  It brilliantly explains the mental gymnastics I often perform to rationalize uncomfortable or inexplicable situations.     

Nowhere was this futile exercise so evident than in my fertility journey.  After every pregnancy I meticulously retraced my actions, desperately seeking a reason for the loss.  If I had a reason, then there was something I could do, something I could change in the future.  I had done everything my doctors told me, yet they could offer no clear explanations, so the only thing I could come back to was myself.  I mentally flogged myself for past misbehavior: “I should have ordered decaf;” “I shouldn’t have taken that hike;” “I should have switched to glass water bottles instead of plastic.”

I felt responsible for the outcome of my pregnancies. Because everything had happened inside of me they were so personal.  Every pill swallowed by my throat.  Every shot absorbed by my skin.  Every cramp experienced by my muscles.  Every bleed seen by my eyes and exited through my womb. Childbearing is something a woman’s body is built to do, so my inability to procreate made me feel like something essential was amiss.  I felt broken and I felt culpable.

Often people told me “it will happen when it’s meant to be.”  But rather than allaying my pain, this instead resulted in me stuck in a philosophical and theological quagmire, stewing over questions like: “Did I do something to deserve this?” or “Does God not want me to be a mother?”  I hadn’t realized that my Christian upbringing had cultivated a guilty conscience that lived in the recesses of my sanity; and I’m not even Catholic!  But there it was, this terrible fear that I somehow deserved to miscarry.  Because without clear answers to turn to, my guilt turned to shame and a pervasive feeling of unworthiness.  At least it was an explanation.

As repentance, I tried harder.  I scoured the internet for information about healthy pregnancies and modified my diet and lifestyle accordingly.  I cut out dairy, gluten and sugar and considered how every bite of food I put into my mouth would impact my blood sugar and inflammation levels.  I took a plethora of vitamins and herbs and even used essential oils.  I tried experimental medical treatments and integrated medicine.  There was little I wouldn’t consider in my efforts to get and stay pregnant.  But nothing worked.  I couldn’t fix it. 

Slowly, I started to accept that I had little to no influence over my ability to have a baby.  Even more slowly, I started to recognize that it wasn’t a personal failing. Ironically, it was a rather poignant “let go and let God” transformation realizing that I couldn’t orchestrate my life the way I wanted.  It was also the breakthrough I needed to begin dismantling my guilt and process my grief.  

The Untethered Soul says that every experience of our body is an expenditure of energy.  The energy “first tries to release by manifesting through the mind,” as it had done during my frantic search for answers, “then tries to release through the heart [which] is what creates all the emotional activity,” as it had done by wearing a mantle of shame and unworthiness.  The challenge is to allow the energy to flow rather than trying to block it or being swept away by it.  I imagine a swimmer in a river who rather than fighting against the current or riding it downstream, paddles to bank where she can wade calmly and watch the water flow.

At this point I (mostly) accept that I did nothing to cause my miscarriages and I (usually) can quiet the voice that questions my worthiness of being a mother.  But I still often wish I knew why.  Why did I lose so many pregnancies? Why couldn’t medicine figure it out?  Another line I noted in the book says: The truth is that most of life will unfold in accordance with forces far outside your control, regardless of what your mind says about it … there is no reason to constantly attempt to figure everything out.  With that in mind, the only thing I can do is continue to sit with this discomfort, and not let it keep me from moving forward.   

Loss Anniversaries

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This week marks the anniversary of my sixth and most recent miscarriage.  

The pregnancy was realized through a round of IVF using a genetically pre-screened embryo.  When I learned the implantation took, I was so excited and nervous that I put myself on voluntary lock-down (not unlike the social distancing I’m currently practicing).  I refused to travel for work or do anything strenuous.   My levels looked great, and I began experiencing the wonderful bouts of nausea and exhaustion common to early pregnancy. 

At seven weeks I started to bleed and became terrified.  We went to the doctor to figure out what was wrong, but they couldn’t find any source of the bleed.  Instead, they showed us a perfect little heartbeat on the ultrasound and told us to rest easy.  We went home shaken and confused but happy and hopeful.  The bleeding stopped.

Two weeks later, at nine weeks, at the final appointment before I would ‘graduate’ from specialty care back to a normal ObGyn, we were told the embryo had stopped growing.  The heartbeat was gone.

I knew immediately that I was done.  I couldn’t take any more.  I would not go through this again. 

My doctor, who is lovely, told me it wasn’t my fault.  She said we’d done everything we could.  When I switched to her care after my 4th loss, I’d told her I didn’t have much left in me, but she was encouraging and said there were still things we could try.  That day we learned about the 6th loss, she said while she still firmly believed I was capable of carrying a pregnancy, she supported me in moving on to other options.  I think she could see and sense my utter exhaustion. 

Because the lab screened the embryos, they knew the gender; and because I have little patience and am terrible with surprises, I opted to know.  It was a girl.  In my head I had named her Laurel.  

I gave myself more space to grieve than I had after prior losses, maybe because I knew it was the last time.  I took a full week off work – like OFF WORK.  My husband found an AirBNB at the beach and we spent the next few days watching the ocean, eating seafood, and simply being together. It was actually a really nice trip. 

My memory over the past years is littered with similar and otherwise wonderful events remembered through the lens of my pregnancies:

  • Our 10th college reunion which we attended during the 2-week period in our first pregnancy when we were waiting to see if it was progressing normally. 
  • The trip I took to Orlando with my sister and mom for her 60th birthday, after we learned our first pregnancy was indeed a miscarriage.
  • Wandering together through Osaka, Japan trying to find a pregnancy test to confirm the start of our second pregnancy, and our subsequent celebration in Kyoto when we learned we were.
  • Attending Riot Fest in Chicago during our second miscarriage, after I started bleeding but before our doctor could definitively confirm a loss.
  • Driving cross-country with my husband when we moved from Chicago to Seattle and attempted timed intercourse with a trigger shot to conceive our third pregnancy.
  • Hiking Mount Robson in Canada in the aftermath of our fifth loss.

These memories aren’t bad; they’re good.  I was with friends, or family, or in foreign countries, or at fun events.  But it’s as if there’s a scratch on the lens blocking certain shapes and distorting certain angles.  They are all slightly marred.  And, of course, I have sad memories too.

Anniversaries of losses can be hard, so can intended due dates, so can places or activities associated with the losses.  Mothers’ Day can be particularly challenging. Receiving birth announcements and baby shower invitations can trigger sadness. 

All I can do in these moments is honor my pain and practice self-care.  Yesterday I made chocolate chip cookies and ate about 10 of them.  I went back and looked through pictures from our trip to the beach.  I talked to my husband about our losses and our journey.  I journaled.  I wrote this post. And I’m still sad. 

Next year at this time, it will probably be better. I have two quartz stones on my bookshelf.  One is from the Himalayas.  It is jagged with sharp edges.  The other is from a beach in western Washington.  It is perfectly smooth and round.  They are my reminder that time changes us.  It blunts our corners and heals our wounds.  This too, shall pass.

“Good Grief!”

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My sister’s friend lost her father two weeks after I lost my fourth pregnancy.  He developed a relatively rare cancer, and though he fought valiantly, died much too young.  I felt so sorry for her.  I am close to my father, as was she, so I could easily imagine her heartbreak.  I also felt like she was more entitled to grief than I was.  Afterall, she was grieving 30-some years of memories of her father.  She lost a fully actualized person.  I hadn’t lost a person – no person existed.  I didn’t feel like I should hurt.

I have often blamed my company or society for urging me out of my sadness too quickly, and maybe that’s true, but I also wanted to move on and put it behind me.  It hurt.  Mentally.  Physically.  Grief is uncomfortable.  I didn’t necessarily want to forget what happened, but I wanted to prune the pain from the tree of my psyche as quickly as possible.

One of the mechanisms I used to try to motivate myself out of pain was self-talk.  But instead of being compassionate, my inner voice tended towards judgement and tough love.  I would remind myself of all loss in the world; people who have lost their homes because of war, people who have been disabled by injury, people who are dealing with terminal illnesses, people who have lost parents or spouses, people who have lost children. Thus, instead of feeling better, I would end up feeling like these people deserved grief more than I did.  Since my pregnancies lasted only a few weeks, the magnitude of my sadness did not feel commensurate to the length of my experience.  I felt melodramatic and ashamed of my grief.  It made me wonder if I was weak or out of touch.

What I was really grieving, what I still am grieving, is the loss of a future I had envisioned.  Yet in this way, my grief was similar to that of my sister’s friend.  I had no memories to mourn, but we were both robbed of futures we wanted.  She lost future holidays with her father and the ability to have him walk her down the aisle at her wedding.  I lost the ability to hold the children I never met, the family vacations I imagined, the possibility of them.  In different ways, we were both grieving the absence of something in our future, something we cared about and wanted. 

I am not saying that the loss of a pregnancy is the same as the loss of a parent, or a partner, or a child.  Or the loss of one’s own health due to sickness or injury.  Or the loss of one’s home due to war or economy. But the themes of grief are common regardless of circumstance:  

Outrage that something you cared about has been taken from you unjustly. 

Anger that the future will no longer look the way you want it to.

Anguish about the loss itself. 

Hurt from the trauma that may have been endured physically or mentally.

Remorse over feelings that you could have done something sooner or better that may have resulted in a different outcome. 

It’s really hard to not have your life work out the way you want it to. It’s really hard to know that no matter how hard you try there are things you simply cannot control.  These feelings are hard for everyone, they just manifest themselves through different circumstances in our lives.  Trying to comfort me after my losses, people would remind me of all the great things I had going in my life.  I did.  I still do.  But gratefulness and grief are not mutually exclusive. 

Beneath the umbrella of infertility and pregnancy loss there is comparative judgement of pain.  Women who experience secondary infertility are told to be grateful for the children they have when they try and fail to grow their family.  I was told to be grateful for my ability to get pregnant when other women couldn’t.  When I had one loss, I was told stories of women who’d had multiple losses.  When I spoke of early losses, I was told about women who’d had later losses or stillbirths. The message in all these situations is the same “be grateful for what you have, someone hurts worse than you.”

But we don’t have to act this way.  We don’t need to determine who hurts the worst before determining how much kindness they’re due.  Placing someone’s loss in relative perspective of other losses does not remove their grief.  Instead, we can empathize with the experience of grief, which we all have felt or will feel at some point.  In this common theme, we can find the compassion for others and for ourselves. 

I Get By With A Little Help

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Many women struggle to talk about their experience of miscarriage, in part because many women don’t share the news of their pregnancy before the loss.  But I also think it’s because as humans, admitting we’re in pain puts us in a position of vulnerability, and that feels uncomfortable and threatening.  I felt isolated and ashamed.  Nobody within my immediate circle had lost a pregnancy so I constantly wondered if I’d done something wrong.  My close friends and family were reassuring and supportive, but when my grief lingered beyond a few weeks, I became afraid of sounding like a wet blanket; I worried they would tire of holding my sadness, and then not want to be around me.  So, I suppressed my feelings and put on a happy face.  As a result, I felt inauthentic because I was hiding this huge aspect of my life from many of my friends and nearly all my colleagues.  There is a Rumi poem called “Cry Out in your Weakness” and several stanzas now resonate with me:

Give your weakness
to one who helps.

Crying out loud and weeping are great resources.
A nursing mother, all she does
is wait to hear her child.

Just a little beginning-whimper,
and she’s there.

God created the child, that is, your wanting,
so that it might cry out, so that milk might come.

Cry out! Don’t be stolid and silent
with your pain. Lament! And let the milk
of loving flow into you.

I like this idea of giving my weakness to those who can help.  Grief is a heavy burden to carry alone, we need others lighten the load.  For some, this support comes from friends and family, for others from online communities or support groups, for me it largely came from therapy.  I currently have two therapists.  One for me and one for my marriage.  

My mom is the Executive Director of a counselling center outside Chicago and I’ve dealt with mental health issues (anxiety and depression) since young adulthood, so for me, therapy was an obvious option. Even so, I had to overcome self-judgement to set up the first appointment.  I wanted to be stolid and silent with my pain.  I was frustrated with myself for continuing to be sad about my losses, and I didn’t want to admit I needed support.  Seeking help is often stigmatized in our society.  It feels weak and it can be awkward to share your feelings with a stranger.  If you want to try therapy, but are wary, here is my advice:

  1. Have an introductory conversation with the person before you book an appointment.  Tell them what you’re going through and what you’re looking for.  Ask them if they have experience with the types of issues you’re facing and if they think they can help you.  And, if that conversation doesn’t go well, then don’t make an appointment with that person. 
  2. Give it three sessions.  If you don’t feel a connection in three sessions, break it off and find someone else. Do not waste time with someone who won’t work for you.   You can even say up front that you want to have a check-in after three sessions to make sure it’s a good fit.  A good therapist should agree to this.
  3. Don’t think it’s like on TV.  Yes, we all want that breakthrough moment like Matt Damon had with Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting” but it doesn’t work that way.  Therapy takes time and work.  Sometimes a session will be helpful and move your forward, but then the next session feels stagnant and unhelpful.  Adopt the long view.

Grief comes in waves and sometimes even when you think you’re totally fine, something happens that lands you back on your ass in tears.  I’ve had several friends recently lose pregnancies.  I’m not sure any of them would have confided in me had they not known about my own experience, and I’m grateful and honored to have heard their stories.  I’ve told them all the same thing:

Be patient and kind with yourself.  This is not your fault and there’s nothing you could have done to prevent it.  What you’re going through sucks.  It feels unfair.  It can make you feel sad, angry, or jealous.  These feelings are ok.  They don’t make you a bad person or mean that you’re ungrateful or lack perspective.  They’re just feelings.  Cry out and share them. 

In the Beginning…

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My husband and I have been together a long time.  We met in college and got married when we were 26.  We were ambitious young professionals who enjoyed our independence.   We traveled a lot on the weekends and socialized a lot in the evenings.  We didn’t want to be young parents.  Besides, people in our generation were having kids later these days anyhow, right? Right??? 

Sometimes I wonder if I had known then, what I know now if I would have done anything differently.  I’m honestly not sure.  

In any case, we matured from our 20’s and turned to family planning.  We started trying in January 2015. My husband was in grad school and I had a good job. We were living by family back in Chicago.  We were finally “ready.”  

I distinctly remember the first time we tried to get pregnant.  For so many years we’d been focused on prevention. The change was exhilarating.  Afterwards, we looked sideways at each other wearing expressions like those of guilty teenagers.  We felt hopeful, anxious, and in love.  We were embarking together on mysterious journey into the void and towards our future.

We got pregnant quickly, after only two months.  My husband was on a school trip and I was coming back from a business trip, so we weren’t even together when I found out.  I wasn’t expecting to be pregnant, so when I took the test by myself, I was completely shocked to see it turn positive.  My husband was equally dumbfounded.  We were accustomed to stories of friends trying for months and months, and yet here we were having success so quickly.  We felt lucky, and terrified.

We immediately and rather rashly told family and close friends. Everyone was thrilled.  My sister sent me pregnancy books and my friends shared first trimester tips.

I dove headlong into the world of expectant mothers.  I bought all sorts of healthy foods at the grocery store as well as ginger snacks and other nausea fighting foods.  I downloaded a pregnancy app on my phone and made a daily ritual of reading about the developments that were happening inside me week by week.  In my free moments I would scroll through lists of baby names.  I started planning the next year of life in my head, pre-cancelling trips and adjusting holiday schedules.  

That was a happy time. Hand to God, I still remember those first weeks with a smile even after everything that happened. 

It’s five years later now, and with each pregnancy I got a little less excited and a lot more terrified. 

I have a friend who also experienced recurrent miscarriages.  Her husband visited us while she was pregnant for the 4th time with their now son.  He said in those first few weeks, before they knew the pregnancy was progressing normally, they referred to it as “dead baby.”  We had only had one loss at that time, and I remember feeling uncomfortable thinking about much pain they must have endured to become so cynical.   Now I get it. 

At the start of my second pregnancy I re-downloaded the app and took all the pregnancy books out of the drawers where I’d stashed them away during my prior pain.  I still felt enthusiastic.  I thought I was once unlucky and would go on to have a perfectly normal pregnancy.  By my third loss however, my expectation shifted, and every time the pee-stick turned positive, I simply assumed it would end poorly.  I waited to make first appointments because it felt so terrible to have to call back and cancel them.  I donated the pregnancy books.  I still always told my family, but I usually told them via text, because I couldn’t handle hearing the excitement that they were somehow able to hold for me.  I remember telling my mom once over the phone; I said I was pregnant and then immediately burst into hysterical sobbing.  It’s not that I wasn’t happy, but my fear was so overpowering that I could barely stand it.

The truth is that even for women who’ve had multiple losses, the chances that her next pregnancy will be successful are still higher than chances she’ll lose it.  That’s why doctors tell women to keep trying, and that’s why all sorts of stories exist of women having six, seven, ten losses and then a healthy baby. 

But it’s hard to keep getting back on the horse.  It feels impossible and insane.  My therapist once asked me to draw a picture of what it felt like to keep trying and I drew a person trying to climb a mountain while simultaneously working to drag an anchor up from the depths of the ocean.

If this is you, try and be kind to yourself.  I won’t tell you that it will all work out the way you want, because I can’t promise that it will.  But I will tell you that we can both find a way for life to be OK regardless. I keep two cards on my desk at all times.  One is from my mother and reads “Life is tough, my darling, but so are you.” The other is from my best friend and reads “You are BRAVE, you are STRONG, you are LOVED.”   

Horrible Things I’ve Thought About Pregnant Women

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I had dinner with a cousin of mine some months after my second loss.  She was incredibly compassionate towards me, having lost her first pregnancy at 11 weeks, essentially right after she told the whole family about it.  But in addition to having a high emotional intelligence quotient, she also has a dark humor which I greatly appreciate.  She told me to watch the Garfunkel and Oates music video “Pregnant Women are Smug.” 

The first time I watched it, I thought it was pretty dumb, but it quickly it became my anthem.  I would sing it in my head every time I passed a pregnant woman on the street.  Except I would make one key substitution.  Instead of singing “pregnant women are smug” I would sing “pregnant women are sluts.”  Crucify me if you like – but if you’ve lost a pregnancy, I know you thought terrible things too. 

For me, pregnancy loss has been accompanied by a lot of anger. Psychology says that anger can be a secondary emotion for hurt . Well, I was really hurting. 

I stopped following friends on Instagram who posted too many pictures of their kids.  I avoided family gatherings because it was too painful to be around all my cousins and their ever-growing broods.  And I internally cursed out every pregnant woman I passed on the street.  Bitch.  Slut.  Congratu-f-in’-lations.

Was this healthy?  I have absolutely no idea.  In my defense I never actually cursed anyone out.  But my anger was acute. 

You know how when you’re thinking about buying a particular car and then all of the sudden you begin to notice that car on the road all the time around you?  When you’re trying to have a kid it’s the same phenomenon.  I was so hyper aware of families and children that it felt like there was literally no escape.  Every single TV drama and most sitcoms have a character who’s pregnant.  Every casual work lunch was filled with conversations about people’s families and kids.  In the five years we’ve been trying, my sister and sister-in-law have had a combined four children.  The majority of my Instagram feed has turned to pictures of toddlers and almost every holiday card I receive includes kids. 

These days, I find myself talking about my nieces and nephews a lot just so it seems like I can relate.  But being an aunt is not the same as a mother.  It’s like carob versus chocolate.  It will do in a pinch, but it’s not the same, not nearly the same.

I remember going to a coffee shop with my husband after one of my losses and there was this beautiful, young mother there with her tiny baby swaddled around her waiting for her latte.  As I was looking at her, my husband tapped me on the shoulder and told me to stop glaring.  Without even realizing what I was doing, I was giving this poor woman the total stink-eye. 

I’m slightly less angry at present. I started going to weekly therapy about a year ago. That, plus time and a break from trying has helped me work through a lot of my grief. But I still flip the bird to the TV every time a movie or TV show character learns she’s expecting.

Preggers, please don’t take offense to this.  The truth is that I desperately want to be that pregnant slut.  I want to feel nauseated yet excited.  I want to gain weight and have weird food cravings.  I want to feel my baby kicking inside me even if it gives me terrible heart burn.  I want what you have.  And because I can’t have it, I’m jealous and I call you names in my head.  It makes me feel better, ok?  Just deal.

Fifty Shades of Pregnancy

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I showed this image to my husband and it triggered a completely different set of feelings for him than it had for me when I drew it.

He thought about times like our second pregnancy when, over the course of a week, we were told that my hormones were too low and things didn’t look good, then, after seeing a heartbeat on the ultrasound, told to progress as if things were normal, and ultimately told we lost it a few days later.

For him, this represents the emotional roller coaster between hope and fear, excitement and dread. For others, I imagine it speaks to the anticipation and anxiety of the terrible “two-week wait.”

To me, it’s more about the in-between. The long periods of uncertainty when I struggled with a lack of definitions or control. I used to think that a person was either pregnant or not pregnant, but it is not that black and white.

The thing about miscarriages that people who haven’t had one don’t realize is that they don’t happen all at once like they do in the movies.  Or at least, this was not the case for me.  Instead there is waiting; instead there is testing.  And during the waiting and the testing, there is the hoping… Maybe my doctor is wrong.  Maybe I just naturally have low hCG levels.  Maybe I’m just one of those people who doesn’t experience normal pregnancy symptoms…

It’s so easy to hope, because as any mother of multiple children will tell you, every pregnancy is different.  And the things that indicate you may be miscarrying are, diabolically, the same things you might experience if the pregnancy is going well.  I can’t tell you how many times doctors and nurses told me that bleeding was “very common” in early pregnancy or that cramping was “totally normal.” There are hundreds of online accounts of women who experienced bizarre, seemingly catastrophic symptoms and then went on to have perfectly healthy babies.  Again, this was not the case for me.

In my reality, it was more like that scene in “He’s Just Not That Into You” when Ginnifer Goodwin comes into the office and talks about being the rule instead of the exception.  My rule was this: if it looks like you’re having a miscarriage, you probably are. 

But my doctors didn’t want to be wrong, they needed empirical tests.  So, I waited another week in case my dating was wrong.  I went in for that extra ultrasound.  I came back for just one more blood test.  Even though I knew the truth in my heart, I hoped right along with them until the scientific bitter end. 

And, during this time, what was I?  During those endless weeks when I was “waiting to see,” when I was pretty sure it was bad news but still couldn’t bring myself to drink the large glass of wine I so desperately wanted, what was I? I wasn’t pregnant, or at least I didn’t have a viable pregnancy. But I wasn’t not pregnant either. I was neither and both, a terrible happening that was not yet over. 

Darker still, what about the weeks after, when all the “products of conception” had been successfully removed from my body but it was still teeming with all manner of pregnancy hormones? I was definitely not pregnant, but my body still thought I was. I didn’t know how to name it and that made me feel “other” and alone.

This is not uncommon. One of the predominant feelings for women who have miscarried is one of isolation. To the rest of the world, our pregnancies were black and white. They were, and then they weren’t. To me (and maybe to them), there was quite a bit of grey in between.

One a lighter note, currently, my husband and I are embarking on a journey of surrogacy.  We will hopefully be expecting, but will not be pregnant.  Now, what shade of grey is that?